The only occasion I have ever nodded along in agreement to Steve ‘Macca’ McManaman was when I accidentally misheard him and thought he was making an entirely different point altogether.
So it was an odd sensation on Saturday to find myself taking his side during a brief debate that sparked up in commentary as Manchester City reduced their FA Cup quarter final awayday at Middlesbrough to shooting practice.
Clearly bored of detailing yet another spurned chance in a distinctly one-sided affair, Darren ‘Fletch’ Fletcher brought up City’s forthcoming fixtures with an ominous tone usually employed by the bearer of extremely bad news.
Maybe he was attempting to introduce a little drama into proceedings and with Boro doing their best impression of a timid, trusting puppy at the vets god knows the game needed it. Or perhaps he was intimating to any neutrals watching; “Keep tuning in folks. These narrative-ruining bullies will soon get what’s coming to them”. They’re like that, BT. Less so these days, but still.
Whatever his reasons Monaco, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea were reeled off in dramatic fashion, a list that sounds like clubs a Hollywood megastar would claim to support while doing a European junket and all lying ahead for City in the space of three short weeks.
Yet Steve ‘Macca’ McManaman wasn’t having any of it, baulking at the negativity with the conviction of a man who owns two Champions League medals through taking on and beating the best around. These are precisely the kinds of challenges that the big players live for and rise to, he rebuked.
There should only be excitement, not fear, and gratitude too because the likes of Middlesbrough would happily cut off their least favourite limb to savour such imposing tests in quick succession rather than grind out a spirit-crushing relegation squabble.
Ignoring the fact that the home side were at that very moment rolling onto their backs and pleading with David Silva to tickle their belly when just one step from Wembley it’s hard not to agree with him.
These are indeed the clusters of box-office games that spring up alongside the daffodils each year that reward the players for prevailing through difficult periods and close calls with crisis.
The objective then as Guardiola’s intricate instructions made perfect sense one week only to confuse the next was to ensure that this point of the season was defining; that match-ups with their peers at the ‘business end’ significantly mattered, and with that achieved it’s difficult to imagine City’s big-stage veterans in Toure, Silva and Aguero not chomping at the bit at the prospect of three rat-a-tat-tat top-five battles after going toe-to-toe again with free-scoring Monaco.
For the supporters too there is no doom-mongering, only giddy, clammy-palmed anticipation. How could such a quartet of demands evoke anything other than fervent enthusiasm when only a decade ago – at this same juncture of the season – City had Stuart Pearce in charge, were out of both domestic cups, and were rooted firmly in mid-table obscurity. It is too often over-looked that Blues are still acclimatising themselves to the ‘big-time’ and a degree of fantasia still exists when their club is pitted against Arsenal at the Emirates as equals.
Travelling to the south of France before taking on Klopp’s Liverpool then is less the ides of March and more the rides of March and it’s an excitement bolstered by confidence too after a ten game unbeaten spell that has seen the emergence of Leroy Sane as a blood-twisting world-beater and a defence that has – in part – remembered how to defend.
Furthermore, and speaking entirely personally for a moment, when the securement of Pep Guardiola was announced a year last February I didn’t charge around the house to the utter bemusement of my girlfriend because I was imagining the fascinating genius somehow finding a way through West Ham’s rear-guard. Or besting the Baggies in November. Or spanking Hull at Christmas. I was thinking of now, of his side and methods being examined by the Premier League and European elites with the stakes vertigo-high.
Guardiola himself has admitted this week that the next seven days ‘will define our season’ and I am not for an instant suggesting that defeat in the principality to Jardim’s wonderkids and/or a loss to Liverpool will prompt anything other than an immensely damaging halt to City’s newly-discovered groove. A nuclear meltdown can surely be expected too on the forums.
But right now it’s all the play for, and the deflating home draws in autumn, and the Bravo soap opera, and the brief, wondrous introduction of a teenage Jesus Christ Superstar, feel like months of rehearsals that has led to this; the main attraction spread over four shows, each as captivating and exhilarating as the next.
Monaco, Arsenal and Chelsea away with Liverpool to host at home. These four games will define Pep’s inaugural season and shape the era to come. I’m ready for that. Are you?